Five Players Whose Immediate Post World Cup Future Will Be Interesting.
5. Guillermo OCHOA (Mexico & Ajaccio (FRA)*)
Good goalkeepers are hard to find, it has been insisted, though throughout the World Cup, it was quite an easy task. In most games, you could just look between the posts. Ochoa has been a cult figure on Corsica for a little while now and, though it wasn’t the Mexican’s fault, his domestic form was no indication of how he played in Brazil. Currently on the lookout for a new club after his contract with Ajaccio expired, Ochoa made the very best of the shop window afforded to him during the tournament and clearly has an agent with the same flair as himself, such are the links his client has seen since Mexico’s elimination. Every World Cup produces a number of players whose performances in the limited setting of a World Cup far outstrip anything they’re able to produce domestically; while Ochoa has a decent club career under his belt, he would still represent something of a gamble for any club. As such, it will be interesting to see which club invests and, furthermore, how he gets on there.
4. Iker CASILLAS (Spain & Real Madrid)
Jose Mourinho was castigated at the Bernabeu for daring to drop Casillas, but that move is looking wiser and wiser every time the Spaniard steps onto the field. Having dropped a clanger that almost cost his side the Champions League, Casillas’ hesitance in possession and reluctance to claim aerial balls were brought into sharp focus during the first shocking destruction of the tournament – the Netherlands 5-1 win against Spain. While the world rallied round its champions to declare that tiki-taka wasn’t dead, little was said of Casillas’ implosion that gifted the Oranje a couple of their goals. He didn’t improve, and after the terminal defeat to Chile appeared a shell of a man who has been tending Los Merengues goal for sixteen seasons. Now apparently eager to rid themselves of their club captain, it remains to be seen if anybody is rich enough to offer a final payday for a man who has clearly lost something of the talent that made him one of the best in the world. It is hard to see beyond the two mega-wealthy French clubs in that regard, though Casillas would represent a pricey reserve to Sirigu.
3. Javier MASCHERANO (Argentina & Barcelona (ESP))
Mascherano was one of the best players at the World Cup in Brazil. His ability to patrol the area in front of Argentina’s defence, and willingness to stop the ball and win it when necessary ensured that the Albicelesti got through their knock-out games without conceding a goal. He was, even in the final, the match of anyone – including Bastian Schweinsteiger – in the defensive midfield role. He returns to Barcelona as a man who has been used regularly as a centre back in the absence of such a player in the Catalans’ squad. If the Spanish can take nothing else from the tournament, then the performance of Mascherano behind Messi was astounding; to the point that it often seemed as though Argentina were just two players, both from the same club. What will be interesting with Barcelona is whether they will play one of the best players in the world at a certain position in his position, or if they will move him out of position to accommodate a lopsided squad.
2. Mathieu VALBUENA (France & Olympique Marseille)
If France did something good, it almost inevitably involved Valbuena. ‘Le Petit Velo’ excelled as France swept their way through the group, and was instrumental in the thrilling 5-2 victory against Switzerland. Most noticeably diminutive, Valbuena has long been revered in Ligue 1 for his workrate and tenacity, but is in possession of a little touch of class, too. The first time I saw him play in the flesh, he rasped home a twenty yard shot in the last minute winner for Les Phoceens against Liverpool that sent Anfield silent. The 29 year old has perhaps one more move in him – with Dinamo Moscow looking favourites to secure his signature –as one of the more lively looking players in Brazil, it will be interesting to see him adapt to different style of play from that which he is used to; both Marseille and France using Valbuena’s pace to exploit opposition on the counter-attack – Stanislav Cherchesov may well find that Dinamo have to play a more expansive game – we will get an early preview of that in Europa League qualifying.
There are lots of players moving to new clubs, Ciro Immobile to Dortmund, Luis Suárez to Barcelona, David Ospina and Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal, all of whom will pose interesting questions in terms of their adjustment ahead of next season; there are equally many players who have enjoyed disappointing campaigns who will be trying to bounce back – Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan, as well as most of the Spain or England squads. There is however, one player who stands head and shoulders in the intrigue stakes for next season (for me, at least) in terms of how his new campaign, at a new club, will go.
1. Diego Costa – (Spain & Chelsea (ENG))
Obviously unfit during the Champions League final, and evidently not quite at his best during the Spanish World Cup campaign, Diego Costa may have reason to believe that this summer has not seen the best of him on the big stage. His eye-poppingly expensive move to Chelsea has kept him in the headlines, as well as the history of pricey Atletico Madrid strikers at Stamford Bridge. He would not be the first to fail, after Fernando Torres – himself a poor reflection of what the Pensioners got from Andriy Shevchenko. Yet the 25-year-old is still approaching the prime of his career and a move to a Chelsea that will place similar demands on him as at Atletico should ensure his transition is smooth. Despite being reviewed as, perhaps, the best player in Spain at points last season, Costa will feel he still has more to prove, as indeed he does. Jose Mourinho’s side will provide a platform for him to feature at the top end of the game both domestically and abroad for as long as he can deliver the goods yet, equally, should he fail to do so, it will not take long for Roman Abramovich’s empirical thumb to turn downwards.
In short, Costa has all the tools necessary to succeed. Chelsea should provide him with all the opportunities. Yet, other than Didier Drogba, Stamford Bridge has been a difficult place for strikers under Abramovich. Costa has earned his cards over the last couple of seasons. How he plays his hand will be intriguing indeed.